One of America’s finest songwriters releases another recommended collection.
Nick Barraclough 2011
You don’t often hear a track that speeds up these days. Studio techniques and protocols now seem to make such things impossible. The title-track of this album speeds up, though. And that, I would guess, comes from the fact that it, and the tracks surrounding it, were recorded with exuberance and passion, as well as expertise.
Mind you, any musician would get off on the sort of material Lucinda Williams turns out. Far from prolific (since 1979 she’s managed about one release every three or four years), what she does write is shot-through with grit, acute perception and heart. And that’s just the lyrics. Her melodies and the songs’ structure are beautifully shaped and balanced. As well as her refined rock and blues sensibilities, she has one foot in the world of country music. It’s a pity that crowd’s writers don’t pay more attention to the depth of her work, as it could help Nashville recover some credibility.
Don Was produced this. He must have loved it as much as the musicians did, and he obviously got it as nothing in the production interferes with the songs. In Soldier’s Song, where she sings the parallel stories of a serving soldier and his wife and child at home, the same chords, in the same sequence, go round and round, allowing the lyric to develop and reach its inevitable conclusion. Sweet Love does the same. No need for embellishment when what’s being sung about is so powerful.
Instrumental embellishment is here, though. Lucinda likes to rock out as much as any, and her band can do it. The opening track, Buttercup, is a joy. Elvis Costello also gets stuck in, admirably with guitar on Seeing Black and duetting vocally on Kiss Like Your Kiss.
Some find it hard to get past Lucinda’s slurred vocals. That makes as much sense as ignoring Bob Dylan for the same reason. In 2002, Time magazine named Williams America’s Best Songwriter. It might seem a silly thing for them to have said, but listening to this album it is hard to come up with any alternative.